Stirring up a hornet's nest

Stirring up a hornet's nest

Just how angry do our elected officials want to make the voters?

Politicians in Cook County have a wolf by the throat that they cannot continue to hold and dare not let go.

This particular wolf comes in the form of the penny-per-ounce tax on sugary soft drinks that recently went into effect after a local judge dissolved the injunction he issued that delayed its July 1 start date.

Consumers went bonkers after the tax took effect, expressing disgust with members of the Cook County Board who approved it and vowing to take their soft drink purchases to stores outside the county.

The question involving political issues of this sort is, will unhappy taxpayers express their anger at the polls?

Anger dissipates and memories fade. But if voters remain as angry next year, particularly by the March 2018 Democratic Party primary, political heads could fall.

The reason is outlined in a "We Ask America" poll that was commissioned by the Illinois Manufacturers Association. It produced eye-popping numbers that only the most hard-headed politician could ignore.

Regarding approval/disapproval numbers, the poll showed that only 12.34 percent of respondents approved and another 1.02 percent had no opinion on the new tax. Expressing disapproval were 86.64 percent of respondents.

That kind of disparity in public opinion polling is rare.

Those polled were even more skeptical of claims from tax supporters, led principally by Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, that they are motivated by public health issues. Advocates claim American obesity stems, at least in part, from consumption of soft drinks, and they argue that high tax on sugary drinks, like high taxes on cigarettes, will discourage consumption by making soft drinks too expensive to purchase.

Poll respondents, however, aren't buying that line. They see it as an out-and-out money grab from beleaguered taxpayers.

Of those polled, 80.33 percent said the new tax is motivated by a desire for additional revenue. Just 8.44 percent said they believe the tax is motivated by health concerns, while 11.22 percent said they had no opinion.

Following is the response that will strike terror in the heart of self-interested pols.

Respondents indicated they will be less-likely to re-elect a Cook County commissioner who voted for the new beverage tax.

Of those polled, 82.56 percent said they would be less likely to support a Cook County Board member who voted for the tax. Less than 11 percent said they would be more likely to support a board member who voted for the tax, and 6.965 percent said it would make no difference.

Suffice it to say, Cook County residents aren't happy about being gouged at the grocery store when they purchase a case of Coke (24 12 ounce cans produces an additional $2.88 tax, not including sales tax).

The poll methods that were used appear to be standard. It was conducted from Aug. 3-6 using both automated (recorded) and live operator-initiated calls. In all, 1,119 registered and likely voters responded, and about 46 percent (515) of the responses came from cellphones.

Despite the public unhappiness, Board President Preckwinkle has displayed a deaf ear to the complaints.

She had one of her spokesmen characterize the government-mandated increase as a "modest tax on sweetened ready-to-drink beverages" because of the desire for revenue and its "clear and undeniable public health benefit over the long term."

Most outrageously, however, Preckwinkle has asked the judge in the case filed by the Illinois Retail Merchants Association to order the association to pay the county $17 million in estimated revenue lost between the time the tax was scheduled to go into effect on July 1 and when it did go into effect on Aug. 2.

In other words, Preckwinkle is asking the court to issue a $17 million fine to an organization that exercised its legal right to challenge her sugar-drinks tax in court. That request speaks volumes about Preckwinkle's lack of judgment. But it also indicates just how high-handed our public officials can be in their dealings with the public they purport to serve.

Of course, it remains to be seen just how far this tax will go in Cook County. The retail merchants always can appeal the trial judge's decision to allow the tax to take place. Cook County Board members might repeal the tax, but they'd have to find new revenue because they're already committed to spending the sugar-tax revenues they hope (but might not) receive.

As for the politicians in Illinois' other 101 counties, they'll be watching to see how this issue plays out, because they're always hungry for more revenue. But that poll sends a worrisome message about public feelings on this issue: Those who support the sugary-beverage tax will be running a big political risk.

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Sid Saltfork wrote on August 09, 2017 at 1:08 pm

Never under estimate the Fat Vote.  Just put a tax on all items packaged in plastic.